With one exception, it had been a while since the sports world heard from Scottie Pippen.
The 55-year-old Hall of Fame forward and former teammate of Charlotte Hornets owner Michael Jordan had never had a particularly explosive media presence.
Even that recent exception — his appearance in the ESPN’s ten-part docuseries The Last Dance — portrayed him as a milder, largely-dependable teammate who maybe had a few disagreements with Jordan’s recollection of their time together.
But in a recent string of media appearances, Pippen has yanked the cork out of the champagne bottle — or the bourbon bottle, in this case.
Among a slew of others, Pippen lashed out against his former peers, accusing Jordan of being “selfish” throughout their time on the Chicago Bulls, as well as charging former Bulls head coach Phil Jackson with being “racist” at points during his career.
The first of these appearance came on June 24, when an edited-for-print interview with GQ’s Tyler Tynes was published on the magazine’s website, apparently in promotion of a new brand of bourbon whiskey Pippen is selling — “Digits” — along with a new memoir, “Unguarded.”
And while Tynes wrote that Pippen was “tired of playing the second fiddle,” his quotes revealed just how deep that feeling ran.
First, Pippen accused the media of purposefully popularizing Jordan, which naturally overshadowed the rest of the team, and himself in particular.
“That ain’t Michael’s fault,” he told Tynes. “He wasn’t writing the articles. But it was the cheerleaders that were behind Michael Jordan that were doing whatever they can to appease him, to get his vote.”
He also bristled at the notion that Jordan would have had the same success he did without Pippen and the rest of those Bulls squads.
“Basketball is a team game,” he continued. “And when you separate one individual out, then you are taking away from the sport. You’re talking about who’s the greatest player and this and that. You know, there’s really no great players in basketball. Basketball is built on great teams.”
Most of that day’s Twitter circus focused on Pippen’s quotes about Jordan, as well as some “constructive criticism” he reserved for Brooklyn Nets star Kevin Durant after his team’s loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in this season’s Eastern Conference semifinals.
What went under the radar, though, was an accusation of racism directed toward Jackson, regarding an incident during Game 3 of a second-round series against the New York Knicks in the 1994 NBA postseason.
That season, despite Jordan leaving the Bulls to chase his dreams of professional baseball, Pippen helped lead the Bulls into the playoffs. But when Jackson could’ve given the game-winning shot to Pippen, he instead drew up a play for Serbian rookie Toni Kukoč. In protest of the play, Pippen stayed on the bench, refusing to enter the game.
“It was a racial move to give (Kukoč) a rise,” Pippen said. “After all I’ve been through with this organization, now you’re gonna tell me to take the ball out and throw it to Toni Kukoč? You’re insulting me. That’s how I felt.”
And, at least during the edited, published version of Tynes and Pippen’s interview, they didn’t stay on that topic too long, instead veering towards Pippen’s experience with the Bulls as a whole. If someone was reading fast enough, they might have overlooked it.
But on a Monday, June 28 appearance on ESPN’s Dan Patrick Show, the six-time champion left little to the imagination.
He doubled down on his criticisms of the media’s portrayal of Jordan, but implied that His Airness’s ego was also partially to blame. To show this, he cited the one-sidedness he perceived from The Last Dance.
“All those cameras were working for Michael Jordan, not the Chicago Bulls,” Pippen said.
He also pointed out the 1993-94 season, when Jordan left the team to join the minor league organization of the Chicago White Sox.
“It was a big decision, but It was a selfish decision,” Pippen said. “But it was kind of who Michael Jordan was. That was a guy who believed he can do anything on his own.”
Later in his interview with Patrick, Pippen was pressed on his comments on Jackson making a “racial” decision during the 1994 playoffs from his GQ interview. Again, he doubled down.
“Do you think Phil was (racist)?,” Patrick asked.
“Oh, yeah,” Pippen replied.
In fact, Pippen claimed that series wasn’t the only time Jackson showed his true colors. He pointed to the case of another mercurial star Jackson coached to championship glory — Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers, with whom Jackson won titles in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2009 and 2010.
In 2003, after leaving the Lakers the first time, Jackson released a tell-all memoir entitled The Last Season, within which he criticized Bryant’s attitude and called him “uncoachable.” To Pippen, that was also a racially-motivated action.
“Do you remember Phil Jackson left the Lakers, went (and) wrote a book on Kobe Bryant, and then came back and coached him?,” Pippen said. “I mean, who would do that? You name someone in professional sports that would do that.”
“I think he tried to expose Kobe in a way that he shouldn’t have.”
One question that Pippen hasn’t officially answered yet is, “Why wait until 2021, more than a year after The Last Dance, to start calling out its main subjects?”